In a show of support for the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) decision to end a costly subsidy to Enbridge Gas, many municipalities are passing motions in support of the OEB. The OEB’s decision has been the centre of attention for environmental and advocacy groups since it was passed late last year. 

The OEB is Ontario’s independent regulator of the electricity and natural gas sectors. It is charged with monitoring how energy companies operate to make sure that the best interests of the public are served. One of the ways it does this is to set the rates that utilities, such as Enbridge, can charge.

On December 21, 2023, the OEB decided not to continue a $250 million a year government payment that Enbridge had requested in its rate application for 2024-2028. In its ruling, the OEB argued that it did not make sense to continue to build gas pipelines to new homes in light of the energy transition taking place globally. Heat pumps, which run on electricity, are now cheaper than gas furnaces. The OEB was concerned that building gas lines to new homes would result in them not being used, which existing gas customers and new homeowners would be on the hook to pay for. This decision was seen as a win for new homeowners, a win for existing gas customers and a win for the environment.

In a knee-jerk reaction, Energy Minister Todd Smith committed to passing legislation to overrule this decision. In response to his statement, Environmental Defence wrote a letter to Minister Smith urging him not to pass legislation to overrule this decision. Not only would this move be costly for new homeowners because the $250 million government payment would be back on the table and Ontarians would have to shoulder the new pipeline costs, it would be bad for the climate and bad for the economy. It would also be unprecedented in that it would interfere with the work of an independent body.

In a show of solidarity, Ontario municipalities began supporting the OEB ruling. To date, nine municipalities have made decisions to support the OEB with another three scheduled to do so before mid April. These decisions demonstrate that Ontarians are concerned about affordability and climate change. 

The first municipality to throw their support behind the OEB was the Township of Severn, voting February 1 to end the subsidy.  Next was the City of Hamilton on February 14, Valentine’s Day, who decided to show some love for the OEB. After the vote on a motion moved by Councillor Craig Cassar, Hamilton Councillor J.P. Danko said, “As a gas customer, I am shocked to understand that I am subsidizing new pipelines.” This clearly resonated with the rest of the council who voted unanimously to end the subsidy and support the OEB. 

It is worth noting that two of the largest cities in Ontario, Toronto and Hamilton, voted to support the OEB and end the subsidy. This represents over 3 million people. Clearly there is momentum to support the OEB and end this costly subsidy. In an era of extreme weather events and with wildfire season about to start, it would be in our best interests to not burn more gas and literally add fuel to the already out of control fire of climate change.